In an era when the employment-to-population ratio is 4+ points lower than it was a decade ago, perhaps it’s not surprising that the U.S. labor market has become less flexible. After all, when jobs feel scarce, it is natural for an employee to want to hang on to the one job (or two) that is putting food on the table.
But a new study released last Thursday, in advance of the Spring 2016 Brookings Panel on Economic Activity, postulates that a core cause of the labor market rigidity (seen in such things as slowing rates of job changes and relocations) may be a ripple effect from an issue that has been brewing for decades: declining trust.
While the they steer away from drawing firm conclusions, when the chalk dust settles from their complex economic calculations, the researchers lean toward a fairly simple and plausible explanation.
“Declines in social capital–particularly the extent and strength of social networks–may raise the cost of job search by forcing workers to rely on more formal channels with less detailed information on the types of jobs available and the associated firm environments. In addition, or alternatively, reduced social capital may increase the cost of new hires as managers have to choose from workers about whom they have less personal information.” (sic)
It’s long been recognized that education significantly improves employment rates and wages, and it intuitively follows that educational experiences that strengthen a student’s personal network of trusted colleagues and mentors can be credited for contributing to the social assets they will need after graduation.
Surely this is true at the college I know best.
Coker College, located on a picturesque campus a block from downtown Hartsville, S.C. (one of the most charming downtowns in the state), is a community that wraps its collective arms around its students. Administrators, faculty and staff know the students well.
We show up at students’ ball games and at their recitals. Students, too, are as apt to pop in (with or without appointment) at the Office of the President or Provost as to the Student Solution Center, their advisor’s office or any of a dozen other offices on campus. As the Cheers theme song nostalgically reminisced, the coffee shop on campus is a place, “where everybody knows your name.”
Does it make a difference? Does a highly personal four-year educational experience change the odds? Can it overcome a social-capital decline 30 years in the making?
It’s a question at the heart of a college ranking that is gaining cache with increasingly savvy parents and their college-bound children. Washington Monthly has designed its rankings specifically to assess an education’s value based on its impact on the public good and graduates’ social mobility after graduation. For Coker, the results are crystal clear.
Of all of the colleges in the Southeast region of the nation, Coker is ranked at #5 in the “Best Bang for the Buck” category, and it is in the top quintile of the 344 baccalaureate colleges ranked nationwide.
Surely economists and other social scientists will continue to look for formulas and models to explain the phenomena in education — from pre-K to post-graduate — that create extraordinary outcomes for students. That’s as it should be.
But while they sharpen their pencils, I bask in the sunny knowledge that on our campus, it is a blessing to be able to engage myself and others in the transformative privilege of teaching and learning.